Teaching Argument with a Side of Mental Health

teaching from twitter pic


Our school has committed to working on addressing mental health issues with our students this year. Our students are carrying heavy burdens and we–the adults in their lives–need to figure out ways to help them cope with them.  So, when this popped up in my Twitter feed last night, I naturally thought of my students:

Big shout out to @bymariandrew for providing a teaching text yet again!!

It’s not a tough image to understand, but we squeezed quite a bit out of it in 20 minutes of  AP Lang today.

What’s the argument?

We’re working on developing arguments right now, so I just said, “What’s her argument and what do you think of it?”  They wrote independently for few minutes and then we shared. They were quick to identify that this is a reminder to be kind to yourself and treat yourself as you treat others.  We snuck in a little Why this/not that rhetorical analysis, too. I always try to loop back to analysis in this class because my students struggle to explain why a writer’s choices have an impact.  

I asked, “Why use ‘she’ and not ‘I’ in the second part?”  and it helped them articulate them articulate the power of the third person pronoun for suggesting that we often hold higher expectations for ourselves than for others.


Where’s the grey?

This was where our discussion got interesting. One of my goals for my students when teaching argument is helping them see the grey areas that exist in every controversial subject. I encourage my students to think about arguments on a spectrum rather than  stopping at yes/no.


I’m not suggesting that my students shouldn’t hold firm opinions or beliefs; I want them to have strong convictions! However, I also want them to hear the other side of the argument and consider what makes it an argument in the first place.

Now, with this image, I’m sure some of you are thinking, “What in the world is the grey area? Is she really suggesting that some would argue you shouldn’t be kind to yourself?

My students would.  As soon as I asked them to identify problems with the image, hands shot up.  

                     “You can’t always cut yourself slack.”

                     “Sometimes I’m actually being lazy and need a kick in the butt.”

                     “I’m not willing to settle for less than my best all the time.”
Ah. I think I’ve found why we need a focus on mental health at our school.  I pushed back a little and asked them to turn and talk at their tables about the grey area between being kind to yourself and having high expectations for yourself. They talked about how to know when you’re being too hard on yourself. How to set realistic expectations. How to help each other set realistic expectations.

After circulating and listening to their discussions for a few minutes, we came back together as a whole group to talk about how we’d structure a response to this image. Again, I returned to the spectrum and asked them to think about where they might fall on the spectrum between agreeing: “Yes. We must always be kind to ourselves.” and “No. We need to push ourselves.” I explained that regardless of where they fall on the spectrum, they’d need to land somewhere. An argument must tell a reader what you want them to do/think/believe. So what??

More talk led to some interesting, nuanced arguments:  

Negative self-talk can be damaging, so setting realistic goals is key to success.

We cannot always trust our guts when it comes to gauging our expectations for ourselves, so we must learn to listen to trusted peers and advisers when they tell us to work harder or chill out.
We didn’t spend anymore time with it–my intended 10 minutes of notebook time had already stretched into 20!–but it dovetailed nicely into that day’s work with developing nuanced arguments.

A Two-Fer, thanks to Twitter.  I was able to provide a space for my students to talk about how they set expectations for themselves and teach about making a nuanced argument. All thanks to my twitter feed.


How do you teach nuanced argumentation? And how do you address stress with your students? I’d love to hear more ideas for both! Connect with me @TeacherHattie or share your ideas below!


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